November 21, 2020

P.J. O’ROURKE: Shamalot.

In 2013, as the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination approached, the New York Times published an article by executive editor Jill Abramson. The Times—always standing ready at the eternal flame, Bic lighter in hand—titled the article “Kennedy, the Elusive President.” Ms. Abramson wrote, in what I suppose she thought was a lament, “An estimated 40,000 books about him have been published since his death… and not one really outstanding one.”

Logevall’s is another. In his JFK and all the rest of these “not really outstanding” books, the problem isn’t Kennedy’s elusiveness. The problem is our elusiveness about Kennedy. We don’t want to grasp and hold in our minds the reality of the man. Nor do we want to dwell on the fecklessness and mediocrity of his kith and kin. After two generations of partisan tarnishing, we want a political memory that gleams.

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment…

A false memory will do. (Camelot lyricist Alan Jay Lerner went to prep school with Jack.) We’re afraid—no, we know—that if we inspect John F. Kennedy too closely, we’ll wonder what we saw in him. To the extent that there’s even a real “we” left to wonder. Anyone old enough to vote for Kennedy in 1960 is over 80 now. (And 49.55 percent of them voted for Nixon.) But the distant, hazy, reminiscent glow lingers, especially in high places such as the Harvard history department.

No thanks, however, to this particular book. Logevall does his clumsy best to walk upon his knees to the shrine. Yet JFK is a life of a saint that makes a hula hoop of his halo. The facts haggle with the hagiography. Logevall has done too much research. The devil (or his lapsed human instrument) is in the details, and so very many details of Kennedy’s life are provided here that Logevall turns into an accidental iconoclast.

Read the whole thing.

And for a look at how the myth of the Kennedy years as Camelot may have permanently damaged the Democratic Party, James Pierson’s 2007 book, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism is well worth a read.

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